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Some Wisconsinites Will Watch World Cup With Passion For Ancestral Home

Sunday's Match Between France And Croatia To Be Seen On Big Screens Across The State

A coach prepares soccer balls at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Kazan, Russia
A coach prepares soccer balls at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Kazan, Russia, Friday, June 22, 2018. Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo

This Sunday’s World Cup soccer championship between Croatia and France will be closely watched by some in Wisconsin who have connections to the two European nations.

Anita Osvatic is a board member of the Croatian Eagles Soccer Club in Franklin, Wisconsin and is a second-generation Croatian-American.

Osvatic said there are about 15,000 people in Wisconsin of Croatian descent. Adding that for many of them, Sunday’s match is more than a sporting event.

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Players of Croatia celebrate after the semifinal match between Croatia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Francisco Seco/AP Photo

“It’s very much about a connection to a homeland that we and they are still very proud of,” she said.

Osvatic says many Croatian-Americans were affected by the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990’s, but the success of the soccer team provides some healing by bringing out the best of the nation.

She plans to watch the game at Croatian Park on Sunday morning and hopes others will attend the screening as well.

Fred Gillich points to France, top, and Croatia, middle, T-shirts he sells at his booth at Bastille Days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Also watching, but at the French-themed Bastille Days in downtown Milwaukee, will be Fred Gillich.

He runs a T-shirt booth there, and is a longtime soccer fan. He says his ancestry goes back to the Alsace-Lorraine region of France and Germany.

Gillich said that while he’d prefer that the French team win Sunday’s match, he appreciates the Croatian team doing well as an underdog.

“I’m cheering for both. I can’t lie. I want to see a good team. I said France in the beginning of the World Cup, and I’m going to stick with it,” Gillich told WPR. “Surprisingly, Croatia made it, and I love it. The narrative probably doesn’t get any better than this.”

A spokesperson for Bastille Days said nearby restaurants will also have televisions tuned to the soccer game.

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